Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ho Ho Hibachi: Abis, Greenwich, CT

Tired of the same old Christmas Eve? How about a family-friendly dinner of hibachi at Abis in Greenwich, CT. Apparently we weren't the only ones - it was packed with multi-generational families, some with Grandmas clad in Christmas apparel. 

Speaking of attire, the affable hibachi chefs each had their own style. The neighboring chef who wore red put on the best show - his fire was the biggest. Our chef donned a Louis Vuitton chef's hat and ascot. "Have to fit in in Greenwich", he explained. 

As for the food, it was better than your average hibachi. A crispy onion soup and small salad with ginger dressing arrive before your chef. With the chef comes the fire show and sautéed vegetables complete with an onion tower.  Proteins are next - everyone gets a few shrimp which are excellent and then your choice of meat, seafood or chicken. Somewhere in there are egg noodles and, if you choose, fried rice.

Noodles, filet and shrimp stood out as winners. Noodles were greasy in a good way. Shrimp were cooked just to the right temperature and a ginger dipping sauce made it both sweet and savory. Filet was up there, although lots of salt. We also snuck in a fresh and tasty tuna sandwich from the sushi bar portion of the restaurant next door.

Dessert included ice cream of your choice: vanilla, chocolate, red bean or green tea. Prices range from $25 to $35 a person depending on your entree selection. Not a bad deal for 5+ courses with built in entertainment. 

Fun for the whole family and no dishes? 
We're in. 

Until our next Burger,

Abis Restaurant
381 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT

A Flash-Frying Favorite: Jimmy's on the Park, Clayton, MO

Jimmy's on the Park is the kind of restaurant you want in your neighborhood. Sure, I was in St. Louis but this could have been in Atlanta or Chicago or dare I say, a town in New Jersey. There is a decent bar scene with live music on one side and a more formal dining room with a fireplace on the other.

They have a star appetizer. Flash-fried spinach. This very well may have been the pre-cursor to the kale chip. A little more oily than a kale chip, extra crispy and topped with Parmesan, our table of 5 devoured two servings and begged for more. 

Unfortunately, they have a terrible gratis item of flash-fried fettuccine (notice a trend). Standing straight up at each table, one thinks it is grissini. Take a bite and it tastes more like a Dorito. Gross. 

Entrees are creative and they work. Sea scallops with pork belly risotto is a newer dish that is rich for the season. Bayou shrimp with crawfish étouffée offers a tasty nod to the South and Amish chicken is a perennial crowd pleaser.

For dessert, order more spinach. Seriously. 

Until our next Burger, 

Jimmy's on the Park
706 De Mun Avenue
Clayton, MO

A Skipper: Planet Sushi, New York, NY

In all our years in NYC, we never made it to Planet Sushi on the Upper West Side. Until we were  faced with a party of 8 (4 of whom were 6 and under) on a Saturday night in the height of Holiday season and then Planet Sushi it was.

Food? OK. Service? Slow. Decor? They have a silkscreen of Rosie from the Jetsons on the wall and a paper mâché globe hanging from the ceiling. What do you think? 

Tuna pizza was thicker than I'm accustomed to and overly crunchy. Gyoza was bland. Another tuna special was never even brought to our table. Rolls lacked imagination. 

But, at least the company was good.

Now I realize why we had always skipped it in the past. 

Until our next Burger. 

Planet Sushi
380 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY

Friday, December 26, 2014

28 hours in Philly: Cheesesteaks, Pho, Doughnuts and More, Philadelphia, PA

Who knew history tasted this good? Nothing says founding father like cheesesteaks, doughnuts and pho. Head to Philadelphia for a combination of olden times and the new culinary frontier.

Stop #1: Saigon Cuisine
Vietnamese please. Bare bones, authentic and delicious. Try the Pho or the Bun. Or both. Or really anything. Each table had something that looked better than the next.

Stop #2: The White Dog Cafe
This is the quintessential place where visitors take Penn students. But you don't have to know a college kid to dine on their chicken and dumplings or piles of tasty fries. Bonus - they have good gluten-free options, too. 

Stop #3: Federal Donuts
Oft-cited famous doughtnut spot that also sells fried chicken. Yes, Yes, Yes.
May even be better than The Holy Donut in Portland, ME.  Big's Z's selection is below.

Stop #4: Reading Terminal Market/MeltKraft
My love of food halls is well documented, either small and curated like Gotham West Market or complete chaos like Brooklyn Smorgasborg, Reading Terminal Market is somewhere in between. My suggestion: get in fast, grab an artisanal Grilled Cheese Sandwich at MeltKraft and get out. I recommend anything with Bacon. And for extra umphh, add some duck fat. P.S. There's also one in Brooklyn (who knew?)

Stop #5: Pat's the King of Steaks
Our trip would not have been complete with out this quintessential stop. Better than Geno's? We're Team Pat's. Follow their sage advice below.

I'm still full. 

Until our next Burger,

Details (all addresses are Philadelphia, PA):
Saigon Cuisine
4000 Chestnut Street
No website, but reviews on Yelp

White Dog Cafe
3420 Sansom Street

Federal Donuts
3428 Sansom Street

Reading Terminal Market/MeltKraft
N. 12th & Arch Street

Pat's King of Steaks
1237 East Passyunk Avenue

A Wow of a Meal: Osteria, Philadelphia, PA

Boar, octopus, pigskin, pizza - these are just a few of the delicacies (OK, pizza is not a delicacy) savored at Osteria in Philadelphia. Surrounded by tables that ranged from intimate couples to boisterous work Holiday parties, everyone at Osteria seemed to be enjoying themselves at this cavernous spot in North Philly.

Enjoy we did, each course richer than the next. A bread display offered grissini and foccacia as well as your typical Italian breads. A first course of appetizers included a octopus (a little on the fishy side) and snails in bone marrow (Wow, just Wow). 

A pizza course included the Cippola with caramelized onions, truffle and sottocenere cheese and was, as deemed by our waiter, french onion soup reincarnated. I concur and I want more. The Lombarda came adorned with fresh ground sausage on top made from spit-roasted pig and baked egg.  

Homemade pastas displayed ingenuity, candle with wild boar sausage had the best tasting noodle.   chicken liver rigatoni definitely tasted like chicken liver and therefore one bite was enough. And the a ravioli-like noodle stuffed with foie gras was both rich and sweet.

After all that entrees fell a bit flat. One order of chicken was forgotten and served not exactly cooked all the way through. My lamb was tender to the fork but could have used some pizazz. The best entree came from the aforementioned pig and included crispy pig skin. Like a chip, from a pig. And better, much better. 

Osteria redeemed itself with dessert. Bambalone, an Italian doughnut, was all a doughnut should be.  Chocolate flan, a pear tart and mocha gelato were solid crowd pleasers. But the most innovative was the polenta and hazelnut pudding, like a lighter version of Nutella with some crunch and salt thrown in.

If you are in the Philadelphia area, Osteria is a treat. Enjoy. 

Until our next Burger, 

640 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Quicksie Greek: Ayhan's Shish Kebab, Westbury, NY

In the mood for Greek while finishing up your holiday shopping? Try Ayhan's Shish Kebab in Westbury, a toga's throw from Roosevelt Field Mall, the outlets at Gallery Plaza and every big box store you can imagine.

Fuel up with some hummus, it comes in every form you can imagine. I like the hummus salad, which in its truest form is a Greek salad lovingly adorned with hummus. 

Still hungry? Gyros abound, as does a tremendous seafood salad. They also have all of your traditional favorites: moussaka, falafel and, of course, shish kebabs. 
But whatever you do, get some hummus. 

Until our next Burger, 

Ayhan's Shish Kebab
477 Old Country Road
Westbury, NY

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Never-ending Sushi Quest: Nisen 347, St. James, NY

Family sushi dinner typically involves JB and me scarfing sushi while the boys complain about their rice-only meal.  We decided to change this.

Enter Nisen 347. A Groupon drew us to the St. James locale, close to the Smith Haven Mall. For our $24 spend with Groupon, Nisen 347 offered us $60 of Japanese fare. We were intrigued. 

This two story, club like restaurant is not your average sushi joint. Our booth unbeknownst to us was in the VIP section complete with a balcony view and personal chandelier. Techno dance music blasted from the speakers and I decided it was time for some Prosecco.

Service was slow (our VIP section was somewhat removed) luckily the food was excellent. 

On a whim we opted for Kobe beef sliders. Japanese burgers - why had our boys never had these before?  Little D was thrilled to have 3 mini burgers to himself. Big Z was skeptical and only ate the buttered buns. Neither boy would touch the sweet potato fries so I indulged in a few. Burgers and fries at a Japanese restaurant, I could get used to this. 

Finally the main event arrived - sushi. Platters were beautiful and large. I always try to order at least one "fun" roll. Eating is supposed to be an adventure, so we venture. The Jumping Monkey roll comes with a spicy warning and I was up to the challenge. Tuna, mango and avocado on the inside, yellowtail and spice on the top. If you pop it in your mouth top-first you are in for some firey stuff. Eat it sideways and you can actually taste the fish, too. Spicy? Yes. Scary spicy? Not really.  JB indulged in the Nisen sushi which was both plentiful and fresh.  Other rolls were tame compared to the Jumping Monkey although enjoyable and delicious.

The Groupon is no longer available but good news, they offer 20% off on Sundays for Customer Appreciation and a variety of happy hour specials during the week.  Maybe it is time to take the boys to Happy Hour.

Compared to other Long Island sushi forays, I'd rank this above Benten, though below Kotobuki.  The quest continues.

Until our next Burger,

Nisen 347
964 Middle Country Road
Saint James, NY

Friday, December 05, 2014

Berger Review/Quicksie Takeout: Bareburger, New York, NY

Bareburger tries to do the unthinkable - a healthy burger. Organic, hormone-free, all-natural. Too bad they taste like the biodegradable cardboard it comes in. Giving organic a bad rap.

Better are fries with a multitude of dipping sauces. And salads offer some even healthier options. 

This chainlet with over 20 stores is on the rise. With stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Ohio, chances are you can try it for yourself. 

Maybe it's better if you eat in and enjoy the cute, bricked decor and wine. Most things taste better with wine. 

Until our next Berger, 

1681 1st avenue
New York, NY 
212.390.1344 for all locations and menus

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Home Cooking in a Big City: Oven + Vine, Phoenix, AZ

There's something about a neighborhood restaurant. Simple food, generous service, inviting atmosphere. Finding a neighborhood restaurant in a big city is almost unheard of, so I was thrilled to stumble upon Oven + Vine in central Phoenix.

More Pennsylvania Dutch than Arizona desert, the restaurant has stark wooden tables and chairs, a wood burning oven and a laid back bar.  Friendly servers don typical hipster garb - think skinny jeans and a henley variation.

Dinner was early so we were able to take advantage of the happy hour special of $1 off all appetizers. Burrata was $5. Let me repeat, $5. Not $20 like it is at Tutto Il Giorno in Southampton, and this is better. Creamy salty perfection with homemade bread lightly doused with olive oil and parsley. An absolute steal. 

I chose a pulled chicken chili with jalapeños for my main course.  The waiter suggested au gratin potatoes and declared them the best he's ever had. I won't go that far though they were a kind of cheesy yummy. The chili was on the basic side: chunks of chicken, veggies and jalapeños - they could have done more with it. 

Other dinner options range from sandwiches to baked pastas. All simple, all reasonably priced. My chicken chili was $12.50, lasagna comes in at $9.

They have a reasonable wine list and a large craft beer selection. The chocolate tart for dessert was decadent and delicious. 

Why cook if you can come here?  I'm not the only who agrees - the line was out the door when we left. 

Add this to your list. 

Until our next Burger,

Oven + Vine
14 W. Vernon Avenue
Phoenix, AZ

Traveling in Phoenix?: Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails, Phoenix, AZ

The group dinner is never easy. One big table for 15 people is usually a recipe for disaster.  But a hotel restaurant should be able to handle it. And Blue Hound in downtown Phoenix does. 

With soaring ceilings and an eclectic menu, Blue Hound aims to please the masses.  Tater tots? Yup. Pork Belly? You betcha. Sliders? Yes, with aforementioned pork belly. Basically take all of the food trends of the past few years and roll it into a restaurant, add cocktails and stir.   

Blue Hound lives in the Palomar Hotel, and is part of the newly built downtown Phoneix area. With soaring ceilings and a large bar, the space is appealing and the drinks flow. 

Entrees ranged from "one big ass steak" (yes, that's it's name on the menu) to a seafood stew. The waiter strangely discouraged us from ordering certain items. "Don't get the salt and pepper shrimp", he warned, the tails are still on and they are a lot of work." Ok, so then why are they on the menu?Instead he pushed the flintstone size pork chop. 

When my side of the table placed several scallop entree orders he quickly paused and ran to the kitchen to make sure we had enough scallops. Really? 

I did eventually get those scallops. The dish was very well composed, three scallops, eggplant, fig and bacon jam with a small side of corn. A little light on the scallops in my mind.  Broccoli and cauliflower sides were overly charred. 

The most interesting meal at the table was a hanger steak with croutons atop the meat. Something I'd never seen before. And that was one good crouton. 

The winning dessert came in the form of a gooey butter cake with pineapple. Not my style, but other than me, raves all around. 

With trendy-ish food and a scene, Blue Hound has a time and a place. Choose wisely.

Until our next burger,

Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails
2 East Jefferson Street
Phoenix, AZ

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Post Theater Dash: Maria Pia, New York, NY

New York Theater is a dream. Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway, any form is a treat. The challenge, however, lies in the meal. Pre or Post you usually contend with crowds, rushes and overpriced fare.

I tend to favor heading west towards 9th Avenue for more casual fare - burgers at Island Burgers, Thai from Wondee Siam or some simple Greek at Uncle Nick's. But a birthday dinner that included three generations meant one thing: Italian. 

Maria Pia is nestled on West 51st between the 60+ year old veteran bistro Tout Va Bien and the throngs at Ippudo. Unassuming and welcoming, when you step down into Maria Pia's first level townhouse time stops. You no longer feel that New York City buzz, instead you feel at home. 

The friendly staff gave us a round table at the front of the narrow restaurant. A plentiful bread basket included peasant bread and foccacia. Apparently my 5 year old has a thing for focaccia - who knew?

A three course prix-fixe dinner for $26.95 was tempting, even more so was the $16.95 3 course lunch, too bad it was 5:00. We found too few choices on the set menu, though and opted for a la carte while sipping some celebratory Prosecco. 

Always a sucker for a Caesar salad, I split that with Bubba. It was fine, not extraordinary.  JB's salad of beets and goat cheese was borderline extraordinary (kinda wish I tasted it - hint hint).

I had been craving eggplant for weeks and the time to fulfill that craving was at Maria Pia. Nothing fancy just rigatoni with eggplant, tomatoes and some ricotta salata. JB's craving was pumpkin ravioli and it did the trick.  Meats and fish are adequate but the homemade pastas trump everything. Go for it. 

And since it was a celebration there was dessert. I have never seen a tartufo so enjoyed as it was by Big Z. His face covered in chocolate with a big smile was the best dessert of all. 

Until our next Berger, 

Maria Pia
319 W. 51st Street
New York, NY

Finest French Fare on Long Island: Le Soir, Bayport, NY

A steal of a meal can be had at Le Soir in Bayport most weeknights. Pay for your entree in the $30 range and get soup of the day, house salad and a dessert of your choice thrown in. The fine French cuisine is impressively delicious. Why had I not been here before?

Decor has been updated and is bright. Service is friendly although a bit hokey. But I was here for the food (and company, of course). I can think of no better way to catch up with friends than dining at a quiet restaurant with a good bottle of wine and equally good, if not exceptional food.

The potato leek soup was creamy and seasoned perfectly. (No need to add salt). You can also order additional starters like escargots or foie gras if you want some more of their delicacies.  

The salad is simple - frisée with a light vinaigrette. Definitely an exercise in you get what you pay for. 

For my entree I opted for jumbo shrimp risotto with tomatoes and asparagus in a vermouth sauce. Shrimp were evenly cooked and bursted with flavor. The dish was both rich and light at the same time.  Not in the mood for shrimp? Duck, filet and salmon are all standouts. 

Never underestimate dessert at a French reataurant. This was the hardest choice of all. Two quenelles of chocolate mousse was my final decision, however, I also adored the Floating Island with its merenguey consisentcy. 

Le Soir is certainly a quiet night out but it's a worthwhile one. So eat a light lunch, and prepare for one of the best French meals on Long Island.

Until our next Burger,

Le Soir
825 Montauk Highway
Bayport, NY

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Telepan Local, New York, NY

When a renowned chef opens a second location you wonder. Will it be better? Is it just a copycat of the other? Is it worth the trip?

I've never been to Bill Telepan's namesake Upper West Side restaurant but based on my experience a week ago at Telepan Local,  I think I would like it.  HOWEVER, as of today, Telepan Local is no longer.

Had Telepan Local tried to be a tapas restaurant, I think it may still be open.  (Remember, Tapas is making a comeback). The starters were promising.  

A grilled cheese "bite" with tomatoes and cheese was melt in your mouth good. The sunchoke and bacon appetizer was very pro bacon (never a bad thing). A veal stew special was so rich and filling, that four people sharing couldn't finish it.

Unfortunately, entrees were all over the map. Partially raw sea scallops and flavorless porkbelly, do not a winning restaurant make.  A group of seven who's had wine usually oohs and aahs over the meal, and there was none of that.

Our chocolate and peanut butter sundae was stellar, and good news, the pastry chef also works uptown at Telepan.  So make that your next stop, I can vouch for the dessert.

Until our next Burger, 

Telepan Local (now closed)
329 Greenwich Street
New York, NY
No phone anymore :( website still works for now

Instead, head uptown to the mothership
72 W. 69th Street
New York, NY

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hooray for Tapas: Plancha, Garden City, NY

More Brooklyn than Long Island, Plancha is a find in Garden City. Tony Franklin Avenue is used to good restaurants, but Plancha takes a small sliver of real estate, a fryer, a broiler, and a flattop (aka Plancha) and voila - a tapas place. Unexpected? Yes. Worth a visit? Definitely.

Sit at the bar, as we did, and watch the small plates delicately composed while sipping a quartino from their large wine selection. 

Start with a platter. We chose cheese (Spanish and Italian meat platters were also on offer) and indulged in six artisanal varieties from  Gouda to D'Affinois. We rounded out the platter with olives, fig jam, nuts and a generous amount of olive oiled bread. 

Each tapas selection looked tantalizingly delicious. We tried to venture beyond our comfort zone. 

#1: Anchovies over rustic bread with mascarpone cheese, capers and onions: Thumbs up for mascarpone, thumbs down for anchovies. A word to all anchovies - go back to just being in Caesar dressing.  

#2: Roasted brussel sprouts: Sounds ordinary but wait there's more. Puréed chestnuts make this dish go from a 7 to a 10. 

#3: Pork belly with kimchee, sesame mayo, lime and cilantro on a soft roll: It's a fancy bacon sandwich, need I say more? 

Speaking of more, there are many tapas to choose from. We saw the lamb run coming out of the broiler and drooled. Croquettes kept being tossed into the fryer. And patatas bravas looked wow. 

We will return for another round. 

Until our next burger, 

La Plancha
931 Franklin Avenue
Garden City, NY

No website but check out their Facebook page:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Trendspotting, Food Halls: Gotham West Market, New York, NY

Food halls are my new favorite trend.  A collection of counters/mini restaurants under one roof with communal seating is an ideal setting for any food lover.  It's an opportunity for a new concept to be tested or a food truck to take a stab at brick and mortar with low overhead.  I think of it as a calmer Smorgasburg. Whatever you call it, I love it.

The Meatpacking District now has Gansevoort Market, Battery Park City has Hudson Eats and Hell's Kitchen has Gotham West Market.  We chose Gotham West for two reasons, its proximity to the Intrepid, and the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop.

JB is a ramen fiend, so this was a must visit.  Profiled last year in the New York Times, Ivan Orkin is Ivan Ramen.  A New Yorker, turned resident of Japan, learned to love ramen while in Japan and brought it back home.  He has since opened his flagship, Ivan Ramen, but the Slurp Shop was his first foray in the US.  The menu is simple, a few ramens, a few rice bowls, salads and drinks.  That's it.

For $12, JB loved his Tokyo Shoyu Ramen with its rye noodles and pork belly. Slurp he did indeed.  I preferred the slow cooked pork donburi.  Also $12, this rice bowl was spicy thanks to some salted plum wasabi and sweet with roasted tomatoes.

The boys, not Japanese fans, were able to find their favorites at Genuine Roadside.  The Super, Double Stack Burger was perfect for sharing.  To make it kid-friendly, we removed the cheese and special sauce.  Little D took all the pickles for himself.  McDonalds style fries completed the meal.

Had the lines not been so long, I also would have tried a taco or two at Choza Taqueria.  And JB was ogling the Blue Bottle Coffee.  Want tapas? Try El Comado.  Fancy a sandwich? Court Street Grocers can fulfill that request.  Cannibal meets your charcuterie and beer needs.  And Jeni's ice cream for dessert.

Take a group, let everyone pick their favorites and convene at the common tables.  Spend 30 minutes there or the whole afternoon.

Until our next Berger,

Gotham West Market
600 11th Avenue
New York, NY

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sushi Travels: Benten Sushi, Miller Place, NY

"Will travel for Sushi" is a bumper sticker that we should put on our car.  Our typical Long Island favorite is Kotobuki in Babylon, though we are always trying to find something closer.  Benten Sushi in Miller Place has been getting positive reviews so we decided to give it a try.

Miller Place and the surrounding area seems to be a hotbed of restaurants, a Thai place was next door and a Burger place was down the street.  Note to self, return to the area.

Meanwhile, back at Benten, we noticed that plate after plate of rolls looked incredible.  Would it be too embarrassing to start asking the neighboring tables for a taste? The atmosphere is that friendly.

Dinner started with some gratis cold soba noodles and Japanese vegetables - delish.  And we added in a pair of Japanese beers for good measure.  They also have a substantial sake menu.

We ordered from the roll menu, plus a Chirashi Zushi meal and few pieces.  The meal came with a miso soup that was average and a bean sprount salad that was a notch above the rest.

Chirashi Zushi was incredible.  Fresh raw fish and vegetables on top of rice.  A great dish to share and more interesting than a typical sashimi platter.  Octopus, fluke, salmon, tuna, egg, and more made this an excellent choice.

Rolls were impressive even with their tongue in cheek names.  Instead of the typical 6 pieces, these are all 8 piece rolls.  Coming off of our Maine trip, we had to have the "Lobster Roll" with raw lobster and avocado. The XMAS Roll was a flurry of red and green with tuna, yellowtail, scallion and avocado. And the Kathy offered spicy chili paste atop spicy tuna.  

Per usual, JB also indulged on some uni and ikura.  He was not impressed.

For the most part, the sushi here is very good.  I just wish it were closer.  If you are ever in the area, I would recommend it.  But if you're going to venture out for sushi, I'd still venture to Kotubuki.

Until our next Berger,

Benten Sushi
971 Route 25A
Miller Place, NY

Friday, October 10, 2014

24 Hours in Portland, Maine: Fore Street, The Holy Donut and Eventide Oyster Co.

Portland, Maine is a foodie town.  They claim to have the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. This seaside city is not just all about seafood, although we had a lot of it, they have everything from ramen to Indian to French and everything in between.

Here's how we did it:

- Fore Street: This place is written up everywhere. It's been in business since 1996 and is perennially listed as the best in Portland and one of the best in the country.  After almost 20 years though, you can't rest on your laurels, and, unfortunately, they do. 

Fore Street is in a beautiful old warehouse with an open kitchen that gives you glimpses of their roasting spit and wood oven. The scent of bacon wafts as you walk in the front door. 

Bread from the Standard Baking Company (their bakery arm) is warm and plentiful. Wine service was slow but we finally settled on a pair of 2007 Pinot Noirs.

Our waiter immediately warned us that they were running low on a few popular dishes, one of which was the tomato tart. I placed one on reserve. 

Appetizers were average. The tomato tart arrived and I see why it's popular. There is a copious amount of goat cheese. Anything with that much goat cheese is good. I can promise you that I had a tomato tart from a Long Island farm stand this summer that was better.  Nothing else really stood out. 

Two of us ordered one of the waiter's favorites as our entree - the whole black bass in a butter merlot sauce. The sauce was incredible. The problem was the fish, which was deboned after being presented to us, was not deboned enough. Each bite was a chore to eat. 

JB's porkchop from the wood oven came out rare. Rare pork in a James Beard restaurant, you don't say. A duck two ways had no problems like being too rare or too bony, but didn't scream winner either. 

Desserts were better. An ice cream box cake was a delicious surprise. Their chocolate dessert was fine but overall Fore Street is not worth the price tag. 

288 Fore Street
Portland, ME

- The Holy Donut: I had promised big Z a trip to the famous doughnut shop to beat the crowds. The Holy Donut is open only until they run out of donuts and at 6:57am a line was already forming for the 7:00am opening. We were first. 

When they unlocked those doors, they were barely ready for customers. No signs were up to determine which flavor was which so we picked by look only. 

Big Z chose a pink glazed (pomegranate as seen below) and I chose a dark chocolate cinnamon sugar. And, wow. The donuts here are made from mashed potatoes not just potato flour and you can tell the difference. These are incredible.  

We took home an old fashioned and a vegan for JB and little D, respectively. Each one was perfection. 

A few hours later we walked passed and the line was out the door. This is a must visit.

7 Exchange Street
Portland, ME
- Eventide Oyster Company: And speaking of must visits, there is Eventide. If you like oysters, this is a command performance. 

Eventide is a small place with a smallish bar, taken up mainly by oysters with a few tables and some stool seating along the window. I'd say they can seat 25 people. Add 10 more if you count the tables outside. What they lack in space they make up for in perfection. 

We dined around 1 on a Friday and were lucky to get a table. The menu is limited mainly to seafood at lunch, but no complaints here. 

JB and I did not know where to start other than to say "oysters". We asked our server to pick 6 pairs of her favorites from Maine for our dozen. We were given a sheet to understand each oyster's provenance. We preferred the saltier ones, especially the John's River.

Of course, a dozen oysters is not enough for lunch for two. So we also had a paper thin tuna tartar with a ginger scallion sauce and radish. And since we were in Maine, a lobster roll.

They offer three varieties of their lobster roll: hollandaise, house mayo and brown butter vinaigrette. Seriously, how can one say no to a brown butter lobster roll? I was wowed twice in one day.

The lobster roll is small and packed with amazing flavors. The bun is steamed, similar to a pork bun, which makes it even more special. The waitress told us sometimes people order one of each. Smart people.

And what about the boys? Well, we aren't going to win a healthy parent of the year award here but they happen to have incredible homemade potato chips dusted with nori. And homemade biscuits that are stellar.

86 Middle Street
Portland, ME

The worst part about going to Portland is leaving. The best part is knowing there will be more great spots to explore on the next visit. We are counting the days. 

Until our next Berger 24-hour Adventure,

Portland Round Up:
- Fore Street: No Go
- The Holy Donut: Go and Go early
- Eventide Oyster Company: Go and if you don't go, I will be angry with you

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

More Lunch Explorations: Little Mexico, Westbury, NY

Authentic Mexican. Nassau County. Go.
Not so easy to find until today at Little Mexico in Westbury. 

Shout out to my Yelp "friend" Steve C. who listed this hole in the wall as his favorite lunch spot. I may not go that far but it is up there. 

Pinatas, streamers, Mexican TV blaring - this is Little Mexico. Chips and salsa servings are generous. Soda glasses are huge.  And tacos are delish. 

We each had 2. The chorizo and shrimp were the favorites. Steak and tilapia were viable alternatives. 

Tacos don't come with much - just a piece of lime and some garnish. I added guacamole and green salsa to add some kick. 

The menu covers everything from flautas to sopes - something for everyone. 
I'd run for this border any day of the week. 

Until our next Berger,

Little Mexico 
280 Post Avenue
Westbury, NY
No Website, but some menu items on Yelp

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Now That's (New Jersey) Italian: Giumarello's, Haddon Township, NJ

I am slowly working my way through Italian restaurants in New Jersey, and we all know there are a lot of them. A lot.

My current victim, Giumarello's in Haddon Township. The challenge is that, still, nothing holds a candle to Marie's Italians specialties. Giumarello's did try, though. 

This is NJ dining at it's best - straight out of Real Housewives complete with a faux fireplace, a valet and a cougar-filled bar. (Not that that there's anything wrong with that).

We chose a quiet table in the back room with a waiter named Rocky, yes, Philadelphia is just a few minutes away. 

We opted for Martinis from their extensive list which included everything from a pumpkin pie to a white chocolate. I chose a pear with Prosecco and Saint-Germain. It was so strong. And when Rocky accidentally knocked my glass spilling a few drops, I was given a second that I could not come close to finishing.

The bread course was a highlight which offered a pizza bread and a plain Italian bread as well as a sweet pepper salsa of sorts. 

We split three appetizers - fried calamari, pancetta wrapped shrimp and eggplant meatballs. That's right, an eggplant meatball. Meatball is a misnomer since there was no meat. Simply put, it was eggplant parm in a meatball shape. Given that I'll take eggplant parm in any shape, this was a hit. Fried calamari was standard and the shrimp was puzzling. Bacon-wrapped shrimp is usually a winner in my book but the horseradish mustard sauce was off-putting. I just wonder why the chef chose that combination. 

In lieu of a traditional entree, I selected the steak and shrimp salad.  What often bothers me about restaurants is what information is on the menu. I know I can always ask but when my salad arrived covered in Gorgonzola I was surprised. Why omit such a polarizing ingredient? A tomato I understand but cheese is substantial. 

Aside from me, my table had all fish dishes. These were substantial if not a little plain. Fish, potato, asparagus. Where was the Italian flair? 

The flair came back at dessert with a presented dessert tray of the Italian favorites - cannoli, cheesecake, tiramisu. 

We tried a "light" cheesecake which I enjoyed until I got a taste of the balsamic drizzle. And I will admit the peanut butter mousse in an Oreo crust, although not the least bit Italian, was almost stellar. 

Adequate? Yes. A standout? No. 
Marie's is still the winner. 

Until our next burger,

329 Haddon Ave.
Haddon Township, NJ

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Hamptons Waterfront Dining (Back at it): Lobster Grille Inn,Southampton, NY

When driving out East, the end of Sunrise Highway can often be a downer. Three lanes go to two, the speed limit plummets and traffic lights appear. On a Friday night this is not a welcome sight. Conversely on the way back West, it is a sign that the drive gets easier from here (usually). Either way you are always welcome at this crossroads at the Lobster Grille Inn. 

The red farmhouse type building sits on the North side of the highway on a small inlet of the Peconic Bay. Yes, one minute you're on the highway and the next you're dining al fresco. The building has been there for decades, originally as the Lobster Inn and only recently at the Lobster Grille Inn. Why they needed the "e" in "grille" is beyond me.  This is not a fancy place. 

The space inside is cavernous. Multiple levels of dining rooms, an indoor bar, a screened-in porch and firepit are your choices - all with water views, some better than others. Decor is barebones, not a table cloth in sight and yet it works. This is almost island casual, a mini escape.

We chose to dine on the porch which had the dual benefit of being sun free and overlooked the water. 

The crowd at lunch on a sunny and warm  Saturday was decidedly old, octogenarian old.  I started to have second thoughts.

Turns out there was nothing to worry about regarding freshness, everything was very fresh, caught that day fresh.

We started with a dozen local clams and a dozen hyper-local oysters that had been caught a mere few yards from where we sat. 

I tried the special seared tuna sandwich which came more done that I had requested over salad. JB enjoyed a shrimp po boy which was tasty but lacked the appropriate kind of bread to call it a po boy. It was more of a shrimp wrap. I can report that the burgers were a hit with the boys. 

Desserts were better than I expected. They nailed the key lime pie and flourless chocolate cake. 

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised. The food is not as good as Rhumba or Canal Cafe (they do take reservations AND credit cards though) but the location is perfect if you are heading West after your meal. Note, if you are heading East after dining you have to take a bit of a detour which could be brutal in summer traffic. 

Until our next Burger, 

Lobster Grille Inn
162 West Inlet Road
Southampton, NY 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Pizza Quest Continues: La Margherita, Medford, NY

Since deciding that Pizzeria Bianco was a disappointment, I have been on the hunt for a winning pie. La Margherita in Medford claims that they were the first to offer pizza from a wood burning oven on Long Island. So I figured it was worth a shot.

Tucked between industrial parks and strip malls, this stand alone pizzeria/ Italian restaurant combo smells like a fireplace from the outside. They are not kidding about that wood burning oven. It's hot. Really hot. 

There is no atmosphere in the pizzeria, unless you count the great Long Island people watching and there is plenty of that. 

The pizza? Eh. This pizza quest is not as easy as I thought it would be. It was good with the requisite crispness but the mozzarella could have been fresher and it needed salt. Actually, more spices and herbs were needed overall, the basil helping was pretty meager. 

Not to say we didn't finish it. 
The before: 
And the after:

JB also had a plain slice for, um, research purposes. It was standard, nothing special. 

And the quest continues. 

Until our next Burger, 

La Margherita
1229 Station Road
Medford, NY

Friday, September 19, 2014

Montauk Day Trip: Navy Beach, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Sweettauk, Budda Berry and Candied Anchor, Montauk, NY

While summer officially ends this week, Montauk is alive and vibrant as ever (at least through Columbus Day).  So gas up the car or jump on the train and head as East as possible.  Traffic should be slightly better but no promises, we are verging on pumpkin season.

Here's how we did it:

Stop 1: Navy Beach

Navy Beach has been our go to since it opened in 2010.  The setting can't be beat. Sitting on a rocky beach drinking rose is an ideal way to spend an afternoon. The problem is the food is not that great.

Really it's fine, albeit pricey. A tuna tataki salad is a nice light solution for lunch. Or load up on ceviche. The burger is good and the boys enjoyed that almost as much as they loved playing in the sand. 

Stop 2: Red Hook Lobster Pound & Sweettauk

For a lot less money and better food, we picked up lobster rolls of varying kinds from the Red Hook Lobster Pound for dinner. The summer takeout outpost of this Brooklyn mainstay is a must visit. 

There are so many choices. Lobster bisque, Lobster BLT, Lobster mac and cheese, and of course your Lobster roll in a Connecticut, Maine, Tuscan or Bikini style.  I prefer a Connecticut (go figure) mainly because it's only butter and Lemon - no mayo and no celery (my nemesis). 

We tried almost everything. The lobster roll, which comes with North Fork Potato Chips, was our favorite. And may even be better than the one we had at Claws in June. There is a good bun to lobster ratio and the flavors were spot on. 

Plus, as a bonus, they share their shop with Sweettauk, a local lemonade specialist. Wow, lobster rolls and lemonade, it's doesn't get much better than that.

Stop 3: Buddha Berry

And since we all have a sweet tooth, we couldn't leave Montauk without dessert, 

Buddha Berry is a step above your everyday yogurt shop. The flavors are better and the toppings are more interesting, some are even healthful! Some.

At most swirl your own shops like Buddha Berry, prices can get out of control. But they didn't here, at least not with our party.

Sitting in their outdoor lounge area was the cherry on top of our Montauk day.

Stop 4: Candied Anchor 
Just as we tried to pull out of town, there was one final stop - the Candied Anchor.  This classic sweetshop got us sugared up for the drive home.  I recommend the rock candy.

Until our next Berger Day Trip,

Our Montauk List:

Navy Beach
16 Navy Road

Red Hook Lobster Pound & Sweettauk
34 South Etna Avenue

43 South Euclid Avenue

Candied Anchor
721 Main Street

Monday, September 15, 2014

Amagansett Day Trip: Hampton Chutney, Jack's Stir Brew and The Meeting House, Amagansett, NY

Our newest topic on the blog is Day Trips. Always up for an adventure, day trips allow us to explore for more than just one meal. And the late summer and fall is an ideal time to perfect the day trip. 

Our first outing: Amagansett.

Once known to me only as the place between East Hampton and Montauk, Amagansett is a town to visit and enjoy entirely on it's own.  While the beach is the main attraction, Amagansett Square, a collection of small white buildings on Montauk Highway, house almost everything you'd need for a day trip.  Food, drink, shopping and more. 

Stop 1: Hampton Chutney 
Boy do I wish Hampton Chutney was in my town.   This counter service spot has just a few tables inside and a few more outside for dining and it is packed. They specialize in Dosas (light, crispy sour-dough crepe made from rice and lentils) and Uttapams (same rice-lentil batter made into an open-faced pancake). Note: Both are of those are Hampton Chutney's definitions.  My definition? An Indian Burrito.  

The Classic Masala with a spiced Indian potato filling is one of my favorites.  Add a cilantro chutney and you have an ideal lunch.  We also adore the Potato Masala - sort of the same as the classic but different with the addition of chicken and spinach.

The only thing I don't like is the service.  We called our order in, were given a 15 minute window and it wound up taking close to 45 minutes for the two dosas.  Worth it? Yes.

Stop 2: Jack's Stir Brew
Not on the original itinerary, JB needed coffee and this was recommended as the best place in town. Mind you the best comes with a hefty price - over $5 for a simple coffee and an organic (and actually quite delicious) doughnut was close to $4. Welcome to the Hamptons. 

Stop 3: The Meeting House
We were fortunate to have dinner with friends visiting from out of town so our typical party of 4 was upped to a party of 8. Even better - the Meeting House only takes reservations for parties of 8 or more. Strolling in without the typical wait was a true luxury.

The Meeting House is a year round establishment in the back of Amagansett Square. Outdoors or indoors, it is charming - the kind of place you could dine at several nights a week. 

Menu choices range from a requisite burger to mussels to steak. They also have a substantial kids menu.

After the day of eating we'd had, I chose the two appetizer route. A dish of string beans with garlic and bacon was stellar. Bacon pieces were substantial in size and taste. The lamb meatballs with tzatziki were a close second.

Other table members enjoyed oysters, roasted corn, pizza from a wood burning oven and that burger I mentioned.  The kids all loved their meals, especially the ice cream for dessert. 

Service was a bit spotty.  The mussels came out long after the rest of the main courses and a piece of plastic was found in one dish but this is a busy spot.  I'd like to return in the winter and take advantage of the their $25 prix-fixe, 2 courses plus a glass wine.  Who's joining us? 

Until our next Berger Day Trip,

Hampton Chutney
6 Main Street

Jack's Stir Brew
146 Montauk Highway

The Meeting House
4 Amagansett Square

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lunch Explorations: Jane Cafe, Mineola, NY

After years of working in the same office, I've decided that I need to do a better job of exploring my local lunch options. The first locale was Jane Cafe, a korean/sushi dive that unbeknownst to me was just a few minutes away.

Jane is in Mineola, a few blocks from the train station, but has a decidedly Queens feel.  This ethnic style of eating screams outer boroughs.

At lunch, Jane is filled with nearby hospital workers and attorneys, and at night, it's more of a no frills foodie destination.  Either version works for me.

If you visit at peak hours, expect a wait.  We arrived at 11:50 for lunch and there were no tables shortly after 12.  My table of sushi lovers decided to go for the Korean side of the menu.

This is very traditional Korean.  BiBimBap and Bulgogi are just as much fun to eat as they are to say.  I chose a Dolsot BiBimBap in a Hot Pot.  The black steaming bowl of brown rice, beef, carrots, zucchini and bean sprouts (I had them hold the egg) arrived smoking hot and still cooking.  I cautiously added some hot bean paste sauce and then enthusiastically added the rest.

Spicy, delicious and filling, I understand why this is the most popular lunch item at the restaurant.

I can't wait to go back and try some more of their specialties.  I may even bring some home as takeout  for JB.

Until our next Berger,

Jane Cafe
92 Main Street
Mineola, NY
No website but plenty of reviews on Yelp

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Good Chinese Food Found: Yao's Diner, Centereach, NY

We are on a never-ending quest for good Chinese food.  Newsflash - the quest may end at Yao's Diner in Centereach.  Yes, tucked in a strip mall in Suffolk County is a Chinese Mecca. 

Started by two Stony Brook grad students from China, this is the real deal. Hot pots, smoked duck, whole fish - they have it all. And if you want "American Style" they have that, too. 

Yao's really is diner-like with quick service and booths. And all but a few of the patrons were of Asian descent. 

I could not resist ordering the Fried Lamb with Cumin. I cannot get this dish, aka Musim Lamb, out of my head since our visit to Fu Run in Flushing.

Their take was different though. Large pieces of lamb came tossed in oil with a heaping pile of cilantro, garlic and ginger.  It was still amazing and to say I loved it would be an understatement. 

A noodle dish was a must.  Since it was a hot day, I chose cold sesame noodles.  I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of peanut sauce and instead amused by the je ne sais quoi flavor.  The kind that makes you keep eating it.

We also had rice and lots of it.  Two dishes, unlimited rice, a pot of tea and $21 later we were done.

A bargain in anyone's book.  A party for the taste buds.  Our new Sunday night spot.

We will be back soon and often.

Until our next Burger,

Yao's Diner
2503 Middle Country Road
Centereach, NY
No website but plenty of reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

My New Indian Destination: Saaz Indian Cuisine, Southampton, NY

We Bergers love our ethnic food.  And we are so often deprived of our favorites as there is not great or really any, local Thai, Vietnamese or Indian.  So you can imagine, I was more than ecstatic to see the sign on Route 27 in Southampton that promised "Indian Restaurant Coming Soon".  We waited for months and I can honestly say, it was worth the wait.

The space formerly housed a Greek restaurant and before that a Mexican chain but you'd never know it.  The room is bright and elegant with white leather banquettes and a fireplace that will keep it cozy all year round.  Service is friendly (and they were especially playful with our two boys).

And the food.  The food is superb.  We were presented with pappadam and two chutneys upon arrival.  We all dove into the basket and chomped away on the spicy treat.  Only Big Z and his limited palette pronounced them "the worst chips he'd ever had".  Instead, he preferred the warm, buttery naan.  JB and I loved them both.

The hardest part of the meal is deciding what to order.  We stuck to some of our old favorites Rogan Josh, Chicken Tikka Masala and a Basmati Rice.

The lamb on the Rogan Josh was tender and had an ideal level of spice.  The Chicken Tikka Masala was creamy and delicious.  We used the rice to soak up the sauce.  We may have also just taken a spoon to the sauce when we ran out of rice.  

As you can see from the pictures above portions are not huge but the flavors are and that is more important.  Quality over quantity reigns true at Saaz.  

For dessert we chose a traditional Gulab Jamun which is fried dumpling, almost like a doughnut, in a pool of honey.  Wow, I could eat those every day. 

We left wanting more and I have a feeling there will be a lot more visits to Saaz.  They are open every day for lunch and dinner.  Lunch is an all you can eat buffet for $15 during the week or $16 on weekends.  Plus, according to their Facebook page, a weekday happy hour is in the works, too. Who's in? 

And good news.  They deliver.  Areas outside of Southampton will incur a fee, a small price to pay to have this experience sent straight to your home. 

Until our next Burger, 

Saaz Indian Cuisine
1746 County Road 39
Southampton, NY

Quicksie Seafood Review: Harry's Seafood, Wilmington, DE

I'm always suspect when there is only one "good" restaurant for out of towners. One restaurant - really? The whole city of Wilmington Delaware has one decent restaurant? I certainly hope not.

The restaurant is housed in a large warehouse-type building on the riverfront, which sounds picturesque but really isn't.  The bar was relatively packed - a good sign.  The tables of eaters less so - not a good sign.

I give them points for having a separate gluten-free menu and some interesting ceviches including a spicy scallop and poblano version and an eclectic ahi tuna with marcona almonds, sesame and cilantro. The fried calamari was adequate however I was thoroughly scared by the artichoke and crab dip.

My main dinner of big eyed tuna with soba noodles was doused in a lime soy sauce and lacking in the vegetable department.  Other fish choices at my table included the mahi mahi and the cajun trout.

Nobody raved about anything.  The best part of my meal may have been the free chocolate chip cookies back at the DoubleTree.

Come on Wilmington, I know you can do better than this.

Until our next Burger,

Harry's Seafood Grill 
101 S. Water Street
Wilmington, DE

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Hamptons Classic: The Almond, Bridgehampton, NY

In our almost 10 years in the Hamptons, one of our mainstays has been the Almond.  French bistro food in Bridgehampton is casual, yet elegant and it can be the go-to for any number of occasions.  In fact in the past few months, I have been there for a birthday celebration, a book club meeting and a wine-infused dinner with friends.  It is always an excellent choice.

The atmosphere is clubby and welcoming.  The hosts are gracious and fun, they offered to change a table when our party grew via an old fashioned "Chinese Fire Drill".  And the food is consistently good.

The asparagus starter, when in season, is an ideal choice and you can certainly have fun with the eggplant three ways.  You can also never go wrong with their raw bar items.

Recent entrees I've enjoyed included the surprisingly light goat cheese ravioli and the full-flavored scallops with corn and bacon.  French traditional classics like the roast chicken, steak frites, and even the hamburger are excellent choices.

If there was to be a weak spot, I'd say it's in the desserts.  Running across the street for something from Pierre's is usually a better bet.

We're lucky to have the Almond opened all year round in the Bridgehampton.  If you haven't been you should try it.  If you have been, you should go again.  And again.

Until our next Burger,

The Almond
1 Ocean Road
Bridgehampton, NY

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unfinished Business: Brewology, Speonk, NY

Speonk (def.) 1) A town on Eastern Long Island that sounds like a bird noise. 2) A strange sounding stop on the Long Island Railroad. 3) The place where we lived for many years. 4) The home to a new restaurant by a critically acclaimed chef?

It is true. Speonk is finally coming into it's own with a real restaurant that serves more than just pizza, bagels or Chinese food. Brewology promises to be a high-end, year-round, foodie destination. 

The problem is - we didn't love it. 

Actually, we started off liking it a lot.

We had drinks at the bar with M&M.  Margaritas were delish.  Oysters were consumed.
The space is loud, very loud.  But that's fun, right?  I like noise, but not everyone does.

In lieu of bread, Brewology offers Soft Pretzels.  Yum. To start we shared 4 dishes.  The pickle plate was terrific and surprise, it had more than just pickles - radishes, asparagus and carrots were all tangily perfect.  A Red Caesar salad had Soft Pretzel croutons and a tangy dressing.  Fried green tomatoes were just OK as was the Fig-A-Licious, a plate of cheeses and figs.

Now I've heard that Brewology's burger is top-notch.  We should have ordered 4 of those.  But instead we ventured into braver territory. The Scallop BLT sounded good to both JB and me, and we were disappointed when it arrived.  The scallops looked like they have been through a war, just ragged and torn.  Bacon was good though (obv).

A "Long Island Cheese Steak" comprised of duck breast and smoked gouda appealed to our group on paper.  In person it was terribly rich.  It was a Wow at the first bite kind of dish, so-so at the second bite and please take it away after the third bite.

The best of the entrees was the Deep Fried Ribeye.  Kind of hard to make that taste bad.  Oh, and we all loved the Fried Potatoes Nests aka Fries.

We hoped to end well with dessert.  We didn't.  Our S'more finisher was overly deconstructed and more like a pudding.

Now I'm torn.  We want to like it, we want it to be good.  Maybe it was an off night? Maybe we ordered wrong.

I think they deserve a second chance.  I'll report back.

Until our next Burger,

295 Montauk Highway
Speonk, NY

Quicksie Italian: Ciao, Newport Beach, CA

Sometimes the further you are from home, the closer you really are. This is how I felt when I walked into Ciao on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. New York Style Italian food but with a laid back California attitude.

Our Antipasti included delicious bruschetta and fresh fried calamari. The entrees consisted of an assortment of Parmesans, Picattas, Florentines and Scampis. And a there was a lot of pizza.

Yes, Balboa Island may be famous for their frozen bananas, (Arrested Development, anyone?) but they also have food that is not just served on a stick.

If you fancy that on your next trip to SoCal - stop by. 

Until our next Burger, 

223 Marine Avenue
Newport Beach, CA

Best Pizza in the Country?: Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, AZ

I read a lot of lists, especially lists that talk about food.  Best burgers, best sandwiches and whenever there is a best pizza list, Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix is always at the top.  Pizza in Phoenix almost sounds like a joke.  Wouldn't it be better in New York or Chicago? Why Phoenix?

I've probably been to Phoenix over a dozen times and every time I'm told that the wait is unbearable so I go elsewhere.  Until recently when the 110 degree temperature kept almost everyone away and we made a run, albeit a sweaty run, for it.

The place is tiny.  I understand why there is a line.  In one corner is a large wood-burning pizza oven, a bar in the other and just a handful of tables.

Wine flowed and helped quench our thirst from the Arizona heat.  While we waited for our pizzas, we noshed on a tremendous antipasto with wood-roasted vegetables, sopressata and cheese.  The vegetables were perfection, the eggplant was truly divine.

We each ordered individual pizzas.  The crust was very thin and the pizzas came out slightly charred. Some of my dining companions (most East Coasters, too) were put off by the burnt crust.

I ordered a Margherita with the basic mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.  It was fine but not amazing.  Not the best in the US by far.  Pretty though.

I also tried a piece of the Biancoverde, which is their white pizza, with mozzarella, parimigiano reggiano, ricotta and arugula.  The arugula was raw on top and didn't mesh well with the other cheeses.

And that was it.  In less than an hour I was able to debunk all of the top pizza lists.  Now off to find truly the best pizza in the US.  Ideas?

Until our next Burger,

Pizzeria Bianco
623 E. Adams Street
Phoenix, AZ

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Bacon Anyone?: North Fork Bacon and Smokehouse, Wading River, NY

Bacon may be our second favorite food after burgers. So when a restaurant called North Fork Bacon & Smokehouse opened in nearby Wading River, I knew we had to go.

Wading River is a tiny town on the North Shore of Long Island - almost in the North Fork, hence the name. The restaurant is even tinier with 5 tables inside and a few picnic tables outside. What is it with BBQ places and picnic tables

Ordering was a bit chaotic. We tried to put in an order of fries and a burger first for our boys. The fries came instantly. House-cut, freshly salted beauties were gobbled up. We placed the rest of our order and waited. And waited. When we inquired about the status of our order we were told nothing had been started since we hadn't paid yet. We thought we had an open tab. They were apologetic, gave us more fries on the house and free drinks. And honestly, I would have waited longer it was so amazingly good.

How do you order when everything looks so tantalizingly delicious? Bacon was a must. The bacon bites are cubes of house-cured beauties in a slight vinegar honey sauce. Ribs were dry rubbed and had a great fat to meat ratio. But the clear winner was the burnt ends. 

Burnt ends are always my favorite at BBQ.  I actually love any kind of burnt food (perhaps an homage to my moms cooking - sorry, Mom). Most BBQ places slather some sauce on top to cover up that burnt taste. But not here. At NFB they are as dry as can be and you can certainly add BBQ sauce if you like. 

The boys loved their burger and the creamy mac and cheese. You can get bacon on top if you wish.  We were too stuffed for sides or salads which they do have. 

I also hear great things about their BLT. Bacon is the new Black don't you know. 

Until our next Burger, 

North Fork Bacon and Smokehouse
1 Sound Avenue
Wading River, NY

Quicksie Sandwiches: Num Pang Sandwich Shop, New York, NY

Love Vietnamese sandwiches? You'll love Cambodian sandwiches even more.

Num Phang is a Cambodian sandwich shop with 5 locations in NYC. Lines are long, atmosphere is nil and taste is worth it. 

JB adored a 5-spice glazed pork belly sandwich. Freshly baked bread, pickled Asian pear, pickled carrots, cucumber and chili mayo made it complete. 

Sandwiches are designed as is and not allowed to be altered. So pick one and go for it. I've been eyeing the spicy organic tofu with leeks or the roasted cauliflower with eggplant spread. 

Salads and soups are available for the less adventurous. The midtown location is just 1 block from the Hampton Jitney making this the perfect stop before the ride out East. 

Until our next Berger, 

Num Phang Sandwich Shop 
140 E. 41st Street (btw Lex & 3rd)
New York, NY for other locations, menus and more

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Berger Review/Chain Reaction: The Counter, Irvine, CA

California - the land of sun, stars and burgers. Yup, burgers. Think of the burger places that have spawned from Cali already - In-n-Out, Umami Burger, and countless others just on the verge of national domination. The Counter may be the next one.

To date, the Counter has almost 40 locations, including over 20 in California and a brand new one in the middle of Times Square. National domination may already be occurring.

I visited the Irvine location which can be found in a small outdoor mall with indoor and outdoor seating. The bar had a decent crowd even at 12 PM on a Tuesday.  The space was modern, airy and packed with people on their lunch break. (Wow, people take lunch breaks in California!)

I snagged an outdoor table and was handed a small clipboard. This is how you order at the Counter, check your boxes and voila!  

Customize your burger the way you may have once ordered sushi.  They offer combinations but I happily composed my own masterpiece:

Grass Fed Beef, cheddar, jicama, jalapenos and a soy sesame dressing - bowl style, meaning no bun and over lettuce. Or simply, a cheeseburger salad.  I'm not sure there could be anything more perfect than that.

Unless of course you wanted to order fries or tots or both, which as a solo diner, I could not consume but my neighbors all seemed to enjoy theirs.

Or maybe you want to mix it up with a turkey, veggie or chicken burger. Add in some bacon or sprouts or quinoa or peanuts. There are dozens of toppings to choose from and most are no additional charge or just $1 extra.

My masterpiece was $11. And it was heaven. Time to get building yours.

Until our next Berger,

Find a location near you!

Berger Review (Fancy): The Mark by Jean Georges, New York

What do Iggy Azalea and The Mark by Jean Georges have in common? Fancy.

As a forever fan of the fancy lunch, the Mark may be one of the best. Tucked in the back of the Mark Hotel with a glorious atrium ceiling lies this spot which is perfect for any celebratory occasion or if you just want to splurge. We did both. 

My starter was a tuna tartar delicately placed on homemade potato chips topped with chive oil. Something about sushi and potato chips is just a winning combination. You can definitely indulge on raw bar or caviar. Even a simple salad here is exquisite. Try the kale. 

The burger sang to me. The Mark Cheeseburger is made complete with Brie and black truffle dressing. Is it decadent? Yes. Is it rich? Yes. Should you order it? Yes. 

Frankly, I'm not sure why you should order anything else. JB and I each had one. 

Yes, we tried some sides. Fries were crispy and well-salted. Asparagus had the right amount of snap. Mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery. 

Other food was had - salmon, pasta, frittata and, obviously, key lime pie. But the burger was the star. 

Keep shining. 

Until our next Berger, 

The Mark Restaurant by Jean Georges
Mark Hotel
25 E. 77th Street
New York, NY

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Quicksie/A Chain Reaction: Luna Grill, Irvine, CA

I love a good, quick spot for lunch. Fine, I love good long spot for lunch, too. However, the quick ones are not so easy to find. Except in the great state of California.

My latest find is Luna Grill. This chainlet has about a dozen locations in SoCal plus a few in Dallas for good measure. The name of the game is Mediterrean - think kebabs, gyro platters and falafel - or as the place is also called "The Great Kebabery".

Add to the list of fast casual spots with outdoor seating. Like Panera but better. Way better.

In short, my falafel platter rocked. Pita was as fresh as could be. Kebabs looked amazing and frankly so did everything. They even have grass-fed burgers in case you know anyone who likes those...

Until our next Berger,

Luna Grill 
Various locations in SoCal & Dallas